From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

I Love Good Romantic Comedy: Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis (stephanieburgis.com) is an American writer who lives in England with her husband, Patrick Samphire, their baby, and their crazy-sweet border collie mix. Her short fiction has appeared in several magazines including Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Black Static. Her Regency fantasy trilogy for ages 10 and up, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, will be published in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Her story, “Offerings,” runs this week at Fantasy Magazine.

The word “offerings” is full of connotations. One can consider an offering a present, of course, but it also has a religious meaning. To leave an “offering” often involves some form of sacrifice, some measure of worship and reverence. What does the title, “Offerings,” mean to you?

On a practical level, the heroine of the story is used to accepting ritual offerings in exchange for her magical blessings. By the end of the story, though, she’s also forced to face the more personal, emotional opportunities that have been offered to her, which she’s ignored and even hidden from for a long time. For me, the title evokes both of those meanings.

Despite the fantastic setting and characters, “Offerings” reads like a light Victorian romantic comedy. How do you think this came about? What are your influences?

I love good romantic comedy, both reading and writing it, and I’ve certainly been influenced by all my favorite comedy authors, from Jane Austen to PG Wodehouse to Georgette Heyer.

The protagonist is never given a name in the story. She is known simply as “The Witch.” Was this intentional? What does it say about your protagonist?

It was intentional, because it’s the way she sees herself. She’s buried herself in her role as a means of self-defense, to hide from her own personal regrets and the dreams she thinks she’s lost. It’s something that a lot of people do in real life, too (whether that comforting, larger role is “witch”, “CEO” or “supermom”). It can be awfully tempting to escape from our own insecurities that way, although it never really works out in the long run…

About your protagonist in the story, the narration explains “Alexander had always said she had a mind as rigidly shut to opposing theories as any Victorian school textbook.” This tendency to shoot down any opposing ideal seems to isolate your protagonist from the rest of the world. Do you feel that rigid ideologies isolate people in general?

Oh, yes, definitely.

In the following passage, you hint that “The Witch” has been hurt by love to the point that she no longer hopes for love:

It had been a long time since she’d wished love for herself. That had been the point of accepting the old witch’s offer of this house and all the responsibilities that came with it. That was the reason behind the house’s rules.

The image of “The Witch” is often seen as a solitary figure, as an old spinster in fairy tales and literature. In your story, “The Witch” is described as a modern, professional woman, the kind who wears clean business suits and takes care of her appearance, but she is still alone. In order to be “The Witch” must she be alone?

That’s certainly what she believes, anyway . . .

At one point in the story, “The Witch” jumps into a lake and it states “The water was cold and piercing, like knives, or knowledge.” Is knowledge “cold and piercing” in your opinion?

It can be, when it’s something we don’t want to face.

I understand you have a novel coming out in 2010 from Atheneum Books (A Most Improper Magick). Congratulations! Would you like to tell us a little about your debut as a novelist? Is there anything else we have to look forward to in the months ahead from Stephanie Burgis?

Thank you! A Most Improper Magick is the first book in a Regency fantasy trilogy for 10-15-year-olds, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson. It’s a romantic comedy-slash-fantasy adventure, starring the irrepressible Kat. In her 19th-century society, magic is the greatest scandal of all, but there’s nothing Kat won’t do to win her older sisters their true loves . . . even if she has to dress as a boy, confront an ancient and secretive magical Order, and battle a highwayman along the way!

T.J. McIntyre has seen his short fiction and poetry published in numerous publications including recent appearances in Everyday Weirdness, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Scifaikuest. He is a member of various writing organizations, including the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), and serves as a moderator for the Lobo Luna writing community on LiveJournal. Until earlier this year, he published Southern Fried Weirdness, an anthology and web zine celebrating speculative fiction and poetry with a Southern perspective. He lives in a busy household in the muggy heart of rural Alabama with his wife, two young sons, an aging Doberman mix, five tiger barbs, and three salt-and-pepper catfish.

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